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Scientists and Rationalists Respond to IGNOU’s New Astrology Course


In an extremely shocking move, the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) has launched a two-year Master’s course on Astrology (Jyotish) for the academic year 2021-22. Established in 1985 after the passing of the Indira Gandhi National Open University Act of the same year, IGNOU is a central government-run institution. It currently offers courses in sciences, social sciences, agriculture, law, social work and much more, through open and distance education.

Offered in both Hindi and Sanskrit languages by IGNOU’s School of Humanities, applications were called for the Astrology course last month. ‘Panchang and Muhurta’, ‘Kundli Formation’ and ‘Eclipse Perception’ are some of the papers that will form the syllabus of this course. IGNOU is reported to have claimed, “The purpose of this course is to provide students with the practical life of human beings under Indian oriental science, from time knowledge, planetary motion, solar eclipse, lunar eclipse to the happenings in space based on the opinions of Indian sages.”

Though a few other Indian universities do offer similar courses, IGNOU is the first post-Independence educational institution to do it. By now, many scholars, educationists, science communicators, and rationalists like Dr. Hamid Dabholkar have come out to express their displeasure with the move, calling it “psuedoscience”. An online campaign, over 800 signatories, was launched by some rationalists entitled “Astrology in Indian Universities”, demanding that the plan to teach the “occult practice” be withdrawn. Agartala-based Science and Rationalist Forum, a common platform of science promotion organisations and intellectuals of Tripura, too has come out against IGNOU’s move and demanded the course’s immediate withdrawal. Its leader ML Roy stated that such a course would only derail the progress India has made in terms of promoting science and scientific temper.

The Indian Cultural Forum spoke to some experts and here is what they had to say:

Early efforts to introduce Astrology as an academic course with a degree were made more than 15 years ago. However, the courses were a part of Sanskrit Vidyapeeth or humanities departments and not as science courses. The current attempt is to provide Astrology a recognition as science, which is normally based on evidence and not on myths. Astrology should not be treated as science. Further, this recognition will provide basis for more irrational behaviour in the society and this attempt of pseudoscience gaining recognition on the basis of Indian knowledge-heritage should be strongly condemned.

 Dr. Vineeta Bal, Immunologist and Faculty, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, and former scientist, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi.

 The onslaught on rational, secular, democratic forces is the trademark of this government. The starting of courses in “asstrology” is only a manifestation of this. It is sad that such things are happening in a country where article 51 ah of the constitution states that it is the duty of every citizen to develop scientific temper, spirit of inquiry and humanism.

— Narendra Nayak, President, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations

An educational programme in ‘astrology’, even a trivial, vocational one in the humanities, is deeply damaging to India’s polity, since it is antithetical both to the constitutional concept of scientific temper and to the idea of evidence-based policy-making for the public weal.

— Dr. Satyajit Rath, Immunologist and Adjunct Faculty, IISER-Pune

In my opinion, this move is completely against the spirit of the Constitution of India, which clearly speaks of developing scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. There is a difference between astronomy and astrology. Astronomy is a science, whereas Astrology is a pseudoscience, which doesn’t have any scientific base. There is no scientific evidence to prove that the stars and planets in the sky influence human life and the time of birth determines an individual’s future. The government and the educational institutes must ensure that people are properly educated to develop scientific temper and rational thinking in order to overcome ignorance, superstition and obscurantism. In fact, developing a scientific temper is essential for democracy to flourish in India. Scientists and rationalists have been endeavouring to spread the scientific temper and idea of rationalism. The rationalists Dr. Narendra Dabholkar, Com. Govind Pansare, Prof. M. M. Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh have lost their lives while working in this direction.

However, it is observed that there have been constant attempts from the BJP government to introduce such unscientific courses in India. Teaching Astrology to the 21st century generation, which uses the most advanced science and technology is certainly an attempt to promote ‘pseudoscience’ and would have long lasting consequences. Making the youth believe in astrology is a political agenda to create a mindset, which instead of questioning the State, blames destiny for being deprived of a human life with dignity and equal status in the society as a citizen.  

— Dr. Megha Pansare, Rationalist and Professor of Russian, Shivaji University

Courtesy: Indian Cultural Forum

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